Since last summer’s protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many of the biggest public companies in the United States have pledged to increase black and minority representation. Yet a recent diversity study of the technology industry found companies that made statements in support of Black Lives Matter had 20% fewer black employees on average than those that didn’t. And another study reported that more than 80% of directors among Fortune 500 companies are white—a number that doesn’t seem to be improving.
When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), many companies are not delivering on their promises, even though research shows that diverse companies are more profitable and more likely to achieve long-term growth as an entity and in their industry.
The time is well overdue for these companies to stop just talking the talk. They need to start walking the walk, as well.
In no way am I suggesting that they stop making—and publicizing—their promises to make changes to their hiring operations in a way that will increase the diversity of their workforces. They should continue to do so as loudly as possible. Rather, I’m asking that they also make real, impactful internal changes so that the increases in diversity are sustainable, everlasting, and truly meaningful.
Here are four changes companies can make today to start increasing the diversity in their workforces:
Current Employees Are the Best Advocates for a More Diverse Workforce
Everyone should have a role to play in recruiting a diverse workforce. In fact, empowering current employees to advocate and participate in improving a company’s workforce diversity could very well be one of the easiest and most impactful ways to accomplish this goal: If people feel integrated into the company culture and committed to its mission, they will actively seek out qualified candidates.
Employers can also kick off diversity and inclusion conversations with employees by creating an inclusion council, a group of influencers who represent a wide variety of roles and seniority levels within the company, ranging from entry-level individual contributors to long-tenured leaders. This council can act on behalf of the company to jump-start and manage the diversity and inclusion process. This team can help guide goal-setting around hiring, retaining, and advancing a diverse workforce and in addressing any employee engagement issues among underrepresented employee groups.
In addition, companies should consider introducing a referral program that motivates employees to recommend new candidates. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee referrals deliver more than 30% of overall hires. HR teams should provide employees with the information they need to promote the company’s open positions and then reward them when their efforts deliver in-office interviews, as well as new hires. Rewards don’t have to be cash (although this is always appreciated!). They can also offer creative alternatives, such as gift cards or extra vacation days.
Finally, companies should be proactive and transparent with key diversity metrics. Leaders should discuss what is—or isn’t—working and where there is additional opportunity. Sharing these details will help employees better understand the impact of their efforts and potentially lead to greater momentum and motivation to be part of the solution.
Work with Local or Underrepresented Communities to Help Expand Career Opportunities for Minority Groups
Creating a diverse workforce can often mean embracing nontraditional talent. Companies should look for community groups, government agencies, staffing firms, and adult education centers in the surrounding areas to find new talent. By offering training and mentoring programs for students in underrepresented communities, companies will begin empowering their next generation of employees. These programs will open their eyes to available opportunities, help them discover the strengths within themselves, and develop necessary skills to achieve career success.
Employers should also create diversity mentorship programs to reinforce diversity in their leadership teams. These programs, which should offer both networking and developmental opportunities, will help establish career paths for diverse demographics within the organization. In addition, they will help retain current employees by providing them with an “in-house” network of colleagues that can help them identify and improve the skills and knowledge they need for career advancement.
Work with Recruiters Who Understand the Value of ‘Untapped’ Educational Resources
HR teams need to diversify their recruitment sources to improve workforce diversity. This can be accomplished by leveraging career fairs, job boards, media outlets, and networking events that attract diverse candidates by design.
Author, poet, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Maya Angelou said, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty, and there is strength.” It has been shown time and time again that students educated in racially and ethnically diverse settings perform better academically and achieve greater professional success than peers from more homogeneous learning environments. So, it’s important for employers to look beyond elite colleges to schools that have an economically and socially diverse student body.
Employers should also focus on recruiting at schools that are committed to keeping education accessible and affordable and that have diversity integrated into their identity. This can include historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-servicing institutions, women’s colleges, and public and community colleges.
Work with Modern Hiring Tools and Technologies
Unconscious bias can have a significant impact on a company’s hiring practices. HR teams should consider investing in tools that help randomize and “anonymize” résumés and applications to assess each candidate based purely on his or her qualifications and independent from factors such as gender and ethnicity. Some of the new artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools can further reduce the threat of unconscious bias by conducting sentiment analysis on each open position announcement to help identify exclusionary language and suggest alternatives to best appeal to a diverse candidate pool.
While it’s important to remove these instances of unconscious bias, companies still need to make a conscious effort to improve candidate sourcing from diverse demographics. They can do this by using the latest workforce and workplace planning software that leverages data and analytics, enabling them to easily identify the geographical markets that offer the best sources of talent while also targeting typically underrepresented communities.
Companies must begin embracing inclusion and diversity as part of their workforce culture. By working with their employees, their communities, and their recruitment sources, as well as utilizing modern technology solutions, companies can—and will—increase the diversity in their workforces, setting themselves up for success and growth moving forward.
Jeff Goldman leads operations at BeyondHQ and is also its de facto legal counsel and a subject matter expert on corporate real estate input into its products. He brings to BeyondHQ and its customers years of experience in finding solutions for intractable workplace issues.